How do you know when your new cancer drug is working better than expected? When they shut down the clinical trial so that every participating patient can receive it.
Johnson & Johnson's Zytiga is kind of a big deal. The FDA approved its use last year for advanced prostate cancer patients who had already received chemo but whose cancer had still metastasized. Prostate cancer is typically treatable for the 200,000 American men who contract it annually, as long as it is caught before it spreads. Once it does, the cancer typically goes to bones where it becomes resistant to normal testosterone-blocking hormonal therapies. Zytiga, however, is a unique cancer-fighting compound that penetrates cancerous cells and shuts down its testosterone production—quickly killing off the damaged cells and preventing their spread. What's more, Zytiga remains effective after the cancer metastasizes and other drugs lose their punch.
What the new study from the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center—presented yesterday at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual meeting in Chicago—shows is that Zytiga can be prescribed much earlier in the disease's progression, specifically before metastasization, with incredible results.
1,088 prostate cancer patients in 12 countries participated in the trial. Each man received the standard low-dose prednisone treatment, with half also getting Zytiga and the other receiving a placebo. Researchers almost immediately discovered that, in the Zytiga group, the cancer progressed at only half the speed as the control group, with patients reporting significantly less pain and a noticeable delay before they had to undertake chemo. The results are so stupendous that the trial was cancelled to allow every patient access to the drug.
"After that first bottle, my pain went away and I just felt like my life was turning around," Rodolfo Chavez, 83, a former longshoreman from San Pedro told SFGate. "I'm still taking them. I'm on my 10th bottle and supposed to get another bottle today."
The FDA has yet to approve Zytiga for earlier use and won't do so until at least next year when the study's final results are published but this could be a beacon for late-stage prostate cancer patients who have otherwise run out of treatment options. [SFGate - Image: Lightspring/Shutterstock]